By Ellen Frankman
The commercial lure of seine fishing takes a back seat this weekend, as local fisherman Al “Big Time” Daniels and the South Fork Nature Center team up to expose both kids and their parents to the creatures we share our waters with daily.
Seining is a technique practiced in its earliest time thousands of years ago in areas with a high population of schooling fish, when a large net was dragged through the water generally quite close to land. Seining later developed for commercial fishing purposes, in which the net, fitted with weights at the bottom and floating devices along the upper rim, is dragged beside a large boat.
Daniels was born and raised in East Hampton and comes from a long line of fishermen.
“In the old days we had nets that were 1000 to 2000 feet long,” he explains. For SOFO’s bay seining event planned for Saturday, Daniels plans to use 50 to 100 foot nets. “This is a small version of the big thing.”
The event will introduce local kids to an activity Daniels spent much of his childhood doing. “As a kid we caught bait fish this way. We caught most of the bait that we fished with ourselves,” recounts Daniels. Especially in today’s world, few people realize that it is just as easy to set a net and catch 400 pieces of bait as it is to go to a bait shop and purchase a package of killeys.
Part of the excitement of the bay seining event, now in its second year, is the mystery of the catch. Says Daniels, “We catch a lot of snappers, which are small bluefish, shiners, killeys, kingfish, and some very very cute blowfish that blow up to the size of ping-pong balls.”
Every now and then the net reveals more surprising inhabitants however. “We’ve caught sandsharks and fluke that you normally don’t see,” says Daniels, who also recalls catching 15 to 20 mullet one year, a fish traditionally found in more tropical waters. “You never know what you’re going to catch!”
Apart from being excited by what they find, the kids are also experiencing a hands-on way to learn about their environment. “The net pulls in stuff that a lot of the kids have never seen or known to live in the bay,” remarks Daniels. “This gives them a reality about what happens when you put the net out there and you bring it in – that’s really what you swim with everyday. That’s what’s in the water.”
As for the adults, Daniels points out that many parents “who aren’t local don’t know that either so it’s a good education.”
Though summer is winding down, late August makes for the perfect time for bay seining, according to Daniels, who explains that most of the eggs that were laid in the spring are now developed and starting to grow. These young fish, typically 3 to 5 inches in length, are what’s caught in the seining net because they swim close to the shoreline.
And for those concerned for the well-being of these little guys, fear not.
“We generally bring a big tub to put them in so the kids can look at them and handle them, and then we release them back into the wild,” assures Daniels.
Bay Seining With Al “Big Time” Daniels takes place on Saturday, August 28, at 10 a.m. Call SOFO at 537-9735 to reserve.